The best gripping books set in the wild

The Books I Picked & Why


By Nevada Barr

Book cover of Firestorm

Why this book?

I tore through this gripping mystery, set in the world of wildlands firefighting, in one sitting. I felt like I was on the fire line with the characters, could feel the heat of the blaze. With the terrible fires that have been raging lately in the west, if readers want to get a feel for the obstacles, sheer bravery, and fear firefighters face battling a wildlands blaze, this book is a must-read. The mystery plot, clever and twisting, kept me guessing, while the main character, national park ranger Anna Pigeon, is a stalwart, strong character I could truly get behind.

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The River of Souls

By Robert McCammon

Book cover of The River of Souls

Why this book?

Robert McCammon is one of our finest contemporary writers. He truly has the gift of making me feel like I’m in the settings of his books, as if I’ve experienced the tribulations and triumphs of his characters firsthand. River of Souls is no exception. It transported me back in time to the swamps of the Carolinas in 1703, where alligators and snakes prowled the dark waters. The main character, Matthew Corbett, is tasked with journeying up the Solstice River in search of an accused murderer. He encounters strange settlements steeped in mysticism. Tales of a mythical beast hunting humans in the fetid landscape add to the terror. But despite these challenges, Corbett, a smart, dynamic, honor-bound character, will stop at nothing to see justice done.

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Into Thin Air: A Personal Account of the Mount Everest Disaster

By Jon Krakauer

Book cover of Into Thin Air: A Personal Account of the Mount Everest Disaster

Why this book?

A lot has been written about the disastrous May 1996 expedition to Mount Everest. Krakauer, who was present then, writes vividly about the storm-ridden, terrifying, and desperate sequence of events that led to the death of five climbers. I learned much about climbing Everest from reading his epic account: the importance of supplemental oxygen and the effects of an oxygen-starved brain; the treacherous sections one must traverse to reach the summit, like ladders draped across the deep crevasses of the Khumbu Icefall; the deadly traffic jams that pile up as too many people try to summit in one day; the rapidity of storms that converge on the peak.

Into Thin Air gives a vivid account of the human drive to reach the strenuous and often obsessive goal of summiting Everest, the struggle to help other climbers in trouble, and the guilt that haunts survivors when fellow climbers die in the summit attempt.

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The Dark Place

By Aaron Elkins

Book cover of The Dark Place

Why this book?

Set in the rainforest of Washington State’s Olympic Peninsula, this book centers on the bizarre murder of a man killed with an ancient weapon not used for the last ten thousand years. Mysterious tales of Sasquatch sightings circulate around the investigation. Only by pressing deep into the rainforest and sleuthing firsthand can the heroes capture the culprit of the crime. While reading this novel, I could feel the cold rain dripping off the tree canopy, and could smell the ferns and moss and hanging lichen of the rainforest. Coincidentally, right after reading this book, I went camping in a remote corner of Washington State. I found myself jumping at the sudden trill of a red squirrel and feeling the shadows of night press in on me. The book had come alive in my mind.

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The Last Season

By Eric Blehm

Book cover of The Last Season

Why this book?

In 1996, backcountry ranger Randy Morgenstern vanished in the wilds of California’s Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Park. Morgenstern was well-known for his ability to find lost hikers in remote, rugged terrain, and that he could simply vanish himself was unthinkable. An investigation was launched, search parties covered vast areas of the park. Rumors circulated of his simply walking out of the park to start a new life. Others thought he might be injured and unable to reach help, or had even taken his own life.

As I turned the pages, spellbound by the mystery, I also deeply related to Morgenstern’s love of isolated wild places. The wildlife work I do takes me to some remote locations, just as Morgenstern’s did, and I find being out in nature peaceful and fulfilling. This riveting non-fiction book won the National Outdoor Book Award when it came out.

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